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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Mezmer Games
Developed By: Black Wing Foundation / N-Game Studios
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: April 29, 2009
Screenshots: Link
GamersGate: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian H.

Games like Stalin vs. Martians make me wonder if self-parody is truly possible in videogames. Occasionally it's funny, but usually works only when expressed through dialogue, most often in adventure games. Sometimes it isn't parody at all; BioShock tackled its own medium in a very serious manner, exploring the conventions and contrivances of game design through its structure, pacing and narrative. What BioShock never did, however, was parody its medium with gameplay. BioShock was a strong and serious FPS/RPG the whole way through. It was fun. Stalin vs. Martians is taking a decidedly different route. It parodies its medium and its genre through gameplay as well as narrative. It never takes itself seriously, which is likely in large part why it isn't any good.

The story is very simple. During World War II, Martians invade Siberia. Since Stalin is too busy fighting the war to deal with the Martian threat, he sends you to repel the invaders back to their home planet and ultimately finish the job there. I wish it was as fun as it sounds. In the game there is very little actual plot. Every mission begins with a briefing straight from the desk of Stalin himself and that's all the plot you ever get. I can appreciate this on some level. Instead of a long, convoluted intro sequence, the “intro” cutscene for the game is just an image of the Soviet flag waving to the Soviet anthem. In between missions you'll see doctored WWII-era Soviet war images, only now with added Martian. All of this is cute and kind of quirky but is any of it funny? Not really.

Stalin vs. Martians is about as basic a real-time strategy games as you're going to find. You drag a box over your units and send them to attack enemy units. In each map you're given a series of objectives that never differ from the usual. Defend this area, attack that area, repeat a few times per level with increasing difficulty. To accomplish these tasks you're given a number of units at the start of each mission. You also have the ability to summon reinforcements to predetermined points on the map for a cost or utilize special powers to enhance your units.

As Martians are killed they drop gold and power-ups. Gold is used to purchase the aforementioned reinforcements and unit enhancements. Power-ups range in function. Some increase a unit's speed, attack power, defense power, health, etc. The name of the game in Stalin vs. Martians is speed. Fighting the waves of invading Martians becomes very difficult if your units aren't benefiting from powers. The best strategy is to reinforce your army regularly and move from point to point, killing Martians and collecting power-ups as quickly as possible. In this sense, Stalin vs. Martians really is more of an arcade style of game than deep strategy.

The arcade RTS was also attempted (successfully) in Introversion Software's Darwinia and Multiwinia. Those games are quite successful at blending speedy action, power-ups and strategy into a unique genre bending title. Most of all, they are fun. Stalin vs. Martians fails at this for two main reasons: it is not fun and it is broken.

Stalin vs. Martians suffers from being too simple. Any element of strategy is completely absent. The entire game just consists of moving from one point to another, right clicking on enemies along the way. Actually, that's being generous. Moving around and right clicking is only really half of the game. The other half consists of leaving your units standing still and watching as they destroy incoming Martians.

The simple mechanics break apart when you realize that your units are much more capable just standing in place and killing oncoming enemies on their own. Sending them to attack something, or attack anything on their way from one point to another, almost always seems to result in their death. It doesn't help that the animation and sound effects are so inconsistent that it's hard to tell if/when they even are attacking (or what they're attacking, for that matter). The pattern repeats endlessly: defending a position on the map requires no thought. Leave your units standing still and they slaughter horde after horde of Martians. Send them to engage equally-sized hordes of Martians, however, and they get slaughtered because they simply don't fight back. So I suppose it's a form of consistency, just not the one you'd want from a polished game.

Then again, Stalin vs. Martians is anything but polished. The game is colorful but that's about all it has going for it, visually. I understand it's a budget title but there aren't even any options to change the resolution. You're stuck with the same blurry sprites and models regardless of how crisp your computer should be capable of making them. Most budget titles have lousy graphics but make up for it with a unique art style. Unfortunately, that can't be said of Stalin vs. Martians; one would be hard-pressed to find a more generic looking title. The environments basically fall into two categories: Earth and Mars. All Earth maps look the same and all Mars maps look the same. The Martians themselves are ripped right out of popular culture: some look like Nintendo's Pikmin, some are ripped straight from Disney/Pixar's Toy Story, some look like Star Wars' Max Rebo, some look like they came straight from Maxis' Spore. It's hard to discern whether this is meant to be an element of satire or just blatant rip-offs. The inconsistency of these disparate character designs doesn't help matters. If it is meant to be satire, it fails to come across as such.

The sound design doesn't fare much better. You'll hear very little noise from your own units; only the tanks seem to make much at all and your units respond when you click on them. From the Martians you'll hear the same small assortment of beeps, bloops, and pew-pews frequently enough to drive anyone mad. The music is definitely not what one would expect from a typical RTS: European house music. It's worth a chuckle the first time you hear but, as is the case with most house music, there's only so much a person can take. Furthermore, like so many of the game's “humorous” elements, it just doesn't mesh with anything. What, exactly, is the music meant to satirize? It's just random.

That's really why the joke falls apart so easily. The developers are attempting to satirize something but there is no satire. There are only completely random and disconnected attempts at humor. None of it is relevant in any way. There is no context whatsoever. Of course, it doesn't help that the game itself just fails to do anything well. The fact that such a simple game fails at such basic levels only highlights how terrible it is. Let's say nothing of typical RTS issues like balance or pacing; when right-clicking doesn't work, it's time to just stop right there.


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